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Russian Official Quits, Pens Scathing Open Letter Against Kremlin Crackdown on Culture

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Yevgeny Savostyanov, head of Russia’s Coordination Council on Intellectual Property Protection, quit after he witnessed a major crackdown on cultural “matters of public interest” within Russia. He criticized Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky in an open letter before he left.

“The reason for this decision is the stance that you and the Culture Ministry have taken on a range of important matters of public interests, as well as some of your public statement and remarks for which I am ashamed,” he wrote in his letter.

He was furious the ministry did not fund ArtdokFest, a festival for independent films, because “its president, Vitaly Mansky, made too many ‘antigovernment remarks.’” He also criticized the police raiding Teatr.doc, an independent “experimental theater” and Moscow ending its 12-year rental agreement with it. From Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL):

Despite protests by Russia’s art community and the intercession of Western theater heavyweights such as the Soviet-born U.S. director Aleksandr Gelman and the Czech-born British playwright Tom Stoppard, Moscow authorities remained deaf to its pleas.

Teatr.doc had staged plays critical of President Vladimir Putin and his politics, including on migration and nationalism.

In late December, police stormed the theater during the screening of a documentary film about Ukraine’s pro-European Euromaidan movement, citing a bomb threat. They seized stage props and detained several theater staff.

RFERL conducted an interview with Savostyanov on Sunday. Unfortunately, he believes the minister will continue to shut down those who possess a different opinion, which could lead to isolation:

As we move further toward isolationism, it will impact the cultural and ideological sphere, too. We already went through this in the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. I myself worked in the cabinet of [leading Soviet communist ideologue] Mikhail Suslov, so I’m very familiar with this atmosphere and I think it’s a huge step back. We haven’t seen anything like this since 1986-87. Due to certain circumstances, I am currently reading newspapers from that time, and I see how the tone of articles changed from 1987. We are returning to the state of affairs during the stagnation years, before the death of [Soviet Communist Party head Yury] Andropov.

Putin’s record as president, especially in 2014, is filled with laws that censor the general public. He holds firm on ex-Soviet states, which backfired when he forced pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych to accept a bailout instead of a trade agreement with the European Union. The pro-West Ukrainians staged a four month protest in Kiev before Parliament expelled Yanukovych. Putin responded by later annexing the Black Sea peninsula Crimea. Russian forces were stationed on Ukraine’s borders while Russians traveled east to help pro-Russian separatists rebel against the new pro-West government in Kiev.

During the Crimea annexation process, Putin cracked down on independent media. The Kremlin shut down three news websites critical of the government, including the blog run by chess champion Garry Kasparov. Lenta.ru’s chief editor Galina Timchenko “resigned,” but employees testified she was fired because she defied the Kremlin and published an interview that quoted the Right Sector Party’s leader. Many employees resigned in protest of her firing and censorship efforts from Moscow. Kommersant reporter Anastasia Karimova posted her resignation letter on Facebook and Instagram. She left because of censorship and said there is no acceptable work in Moscow for journalists. Russia Today anchor Liz Wahl resigned on air over censorship and the network’s backing of Russia’s actions in Ukraine.

Moscow banned all profanity in the arts in May. The law does not define profanity, but profanity is not allowed to exist in “literature, theater, film and recorded music.” The law also targets media and bloggers.

In November, Russia’s Ministry of Education and Science removed thousands of “unsuitable” textbooks from schools, eliminating the business of many of the nation’s book publishers. The only company untouched by the purge is the Soviet-era publisher Enlightenment, now owned by Putin ally Arkady Rotenberg. The ministry eliminated books that are “hardly designed to instill a sense of patriotism in young Russian minds” because they used cartoon characters from the West.

In December, a Moscow court convicted outspoken Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and his brother Oleg of stealing $500,000 from two firms. Navalny received a three-year suspended sentence while his brother received the same amount of time in prison. Navalny and his supporters claim the charges are false and just another attempt to shut down opposition against Putin. He is currently serving house arrest for a five-year sentence after a court convicted him of stealing from a state timber company. Police officers arrested Navalny when he attempted to join a protest against his sentencing. On January 6, he snipped off his monitor bracelet with a pair of kitchen scissors in defiance of the order.


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